Thursday, July 24, 2014
The CarTalk Guys on National Public Radio have a crazy tradition of breaking their one hour radio program into "three halves" (okay, they have a lot of crazy traditions -- I'm focusing on just one). In that tradition, I'd been thinking about how the practice of "elder law" might also have three halves, but then I realized that perhaps it really has five halves. See what you think.
- In the United States, private practitioners who call themselves "Elder Law Attorneys" usually focus on helping individuals or families plan for legal issues that tend to occur between retirement and death. Many of the longer-serving attorneys with expertise in this area started to specialize after confronting the needs of their own parents or aging family members. They learned -- sometimes the hard way -- about the need for special knowledge of Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance and the significance of frailty or incapacity for aging adults. They trained the next generations of Elder Law Attorneys, thereby reducing the need to learn exclusively from mistakes.
- Closely aligned with the private bar are Elder Law Attorneys who work for legal service organizations or other nonprofit law firms. They have critical skills and knowledge of health-related benefits under federal and state programs. They also have sophisticaed information about the availability of income-related benefits under Social Security. They often serve the most needy of elders. Their commitment to obtain solutions not just for one client, but often for a whole class of older clients, gives them a vital role to play.
- At the state and federal levels, core decisions are made about how to interpret laws affecting older adults. Key decisions are made by attorneys who are hired by a government agency. Their decisions impact real people -- and they keep a close eye on the financial consequences of permitting access to benefits, even if is often elected officials making the decisions about funding priorities. I would also put prosecutors in this same public servant "Elder Law" category, especially prosecutors who have taken on the challenge of responding to elder abuse.
- A whole host of companies, both for-profit and nonprofit, are in the business of providing care to older adults, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, home-care agencies and so on -- and they too have attorneys with deep expertise in the provider-side of "Elder Law," including knowledge of contracts, insurance and public benefit programs that pay for such services.
- Last, but definitely not least, attorneys are involved at policy levels, looking not only to the present statutes and regulations affecting older adults, but to the future of what should be the legal framework for protection of rights, or imposition of obligations, on older adults and their families. My understanding and appreciation of this sector has increased greatly over the last few years, particularly as I have come to know human rights experts who specialize in the rights of older persons.
Of course, lawyers are not the only persons who work in "Elder Law" fields and it truly takes a village -- including paralegals, social workers, case workers, health care professionals, and law clerks -- to find ways to use the law effectively and wisely. Ironically, at times it can seem as if the different halves of "elder law" specialists are working in opposition to each other, rather than together.
My reason for trying to identify these "Five Halves" of Elder Law is that, as with most of us who teach courses on elder law or aging, I have come to realize I have former students working in all of these divisions, who began their appreciation for the legal needs of older adults while still in law school. Organizing these "halves" may also help in organizing course materials.
I strongly suspect I'm could be missing one or more sectors of those with special expertise in Elder Law. What am I forgetting?
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Mexico and countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America have been working very hard on the question of whether laws are needed to recognize and promote the human rights of older persons. This commitment was demonstrated during the 2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference in Chicago, by Rosa Bella Caceres Mongelos from Paraguay, as one of the speakers on the panel focused on "Dignity, Equality and Anti-Ageism Rights of Older Persons."
Professor Caceres Mongelos is the current president of the Central Association of Retired Public Servants and Teachers in Paraguay, and has experience as a master teacher, educational administrator, and vocational counselor. She has also taught classes at the university level on leadership. When I asked whether her organization is comparable to AARP in the U.S., which was started by a retired teacher, she laughed and said "maybe some day." I think she would not mind me saying that she's tiny but powerful -- and certainly she is an articulate spokesperson for the issues her country, with a total popularion of 6.8 million, is facing.
Professor Caceras Mongelos has served as a spokesperson for her civil society organization during regional meetings for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012 and 2013 that led to endorsment of a formal international convention on the rights of older persons.
The participation of Paraguay in international discussions of aging is forward-thinking, as it is actually a comparatively young country in terms of its overall population. Persons aged 60 and over comprise approximately 8% of the population. Recent news reports indicate that more than 66% of its population is less than 30 years old. At the same time, with their citizens already experiencing relatively long-life spans, especially on a comparative basis (average life span is now 75 according to some reports), the country will begin to see the impact of aging as a nation starting in 2038.
The organization headed by Caceres Mongelos has adopted advocacy goals for its members, including health related goals, such as securing free health care (including mobile clinics) for retirees for critical matters such as vision and dental care, and for treatment of cancer and chronic diabetes, all issues recognized as important for the self-esteem of older persons. Her Central Association has a project called "Hogares de Jubliados" or "Homes for the Elderly," with a goal of providing space for as many as 200 persons deemed vulnerable and unprotected. Her organization seeks to "monitor and insure safekeeping of social security funds under control of the treasury" during the current fiscal crisis. A better system of public transportation is another key goal.
She described her Central Association's recent Yellow Ribbon Campaign to re-enforce recognition of the rights of civil services and retirees to be free from pay discrimination under the Constitution of Paraguay. She described the yellow ribbons as symbols for the "struggle to claim solidarity, love, better living and the light of hope for a bearable and dignified old age." Despite the small proportion of Paraguayans currently deemed older -- in their "third age" -- she said "fragility" often characterizes their life conditions, with more than a quarter of the population of older adults illiterate and with only 19% currently receiving any form of income from pension or retirement benefits. In addition, her association stresses that real attention must be paid to the needs of older persons in indigenous communities and Afro-descendants.
In closing, Professor Caceres Mongelos called for an end to procrastination on international recognition of the rights of older persons. She said, "Declaring and implementing the regulations calling for dignity, equality and non-discrimination ... for older persons needs to be achieved as quickly as possible [toward] the goal of improving quality of life and respecting the human rights of older persons."
Sunday, July 20, 2014
The growing significance and scope of "elder law" is demonstrated by the program for the upcoming 2014 Elder Law Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be held on July 24-25. In addition to key updates on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans and Social Security law, plus updates on the very recent changes to Pennsylvania law affecting powers of attorney, here are a few highlights from the multi-track sessions (48 in number!):
- Nationally recognized elder law practitioner, Nell Graham Sale (from one of my other "home" states, New Mexico!) will present on planning and tax implications of trusts, including special needs trusts;
- North Carolina elder law expert Bob Mason will offer limited enrollment sessions on drafting irrevocable trusts;
- We'll hear the latest on representing same-sex couples following Pennsylvania's recent court decision that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages;
- Julian Gray, Pittsburgh attorney and outgoing chair of the Pennsylvania Bar's Elder Law Section will present on "firearm laws and gun trusts." By coincidence, I've had two people this week ask me about what happens when you "inherit" guns.
Be there or be square! (Who said that first, anyway?)
July 20, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Retirement, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
An interesting moment for me at the 2014 Internatonal Elder Law and Policy Conference at John Marshall Law School in early July occurred when I asked several speakers from China to comment on recent reports suggesting "filial support" or "family support" is attracting interest of legislators, courts and older persons in China. For example, I shared with them the text, in English and Chinese, from Chinese Law Prof Blog on "Controversy Over Elder Law in China," that included news reports on consideration of laws in Shandong province in northeastern coastal China. If passed the laws would appear to require adult children to maintain "their parents' standard of living at a level at least equal to their own."
My question sparked a vigorous debate among the Chinese participants and quite a few chuckles from the audience as we tried to keep up with the translators. Over the course of the next two days Professor Lihong Tang from the law school at Fuzhou University in Fujian Province, Professor Chey-Nan Hsieh from Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, and Professor Xianri Zhou of South China Normal University School of Law in Shanghai attempted to help me understand. Here is my understanding of several points made during our discussion, a conversation we have agreed to continue via email:
- The population of individuals aged 65 and older in China is already 119 million. From my separate research I know that the older population is projected to continue to grow at a rate of 3.2 percent per year. The percentage of the population deemed older is also increasing, and according to some reports, it is projected to hit 1/6th of the total population by 2018 and possible as high as 1/5th of the total population by 2035. In other words, as Professor Tang explained, at some point in the relatively near future the total number of elderly in China could exceed the total population -- young, middle-aged and old -- of the U.S.
- With these population statistics in mind, they advised caution in making any judgments or predictions about trends based on a single case decision or from news stories reporting about any single family controversy involving support. And of course, this point is valuable to remember in all legal research, but the importance (and challenge) of having an adequate empirical base in China may be even more significant.
- Court actions to mandate younger family members to care for their elders are not a major trend in China. Rather, they emphasized that most families voluntarily provide the majority of care and financial assistance needed by their elders.
- There are efforts to create a stronger public system of income support where necessary to meet basic needs.
- Recent news reports (that received high profile attention in the U.S., such as this 2013 report on CNN) about a Chinese law that would mandate that adult children also "visit" their elderly parents were focusing on a "proposed" law, not one that was enacted.
In addition to my on-going discussion with the law professors at the conference, Yihan Wang, Senior Judge in the People's Court of the Jing'an District in Shanghai, gave a fascinating presentation on "The Path of Judicial Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly in China." He has served for many years as a judge, and is currently in charge of "civil trials, commercial trials, finance trials and elderly trials" in his judicial district in Shanghai. He explained that an "elderly judicial tribunal" was established in 1994, for civil cases in which one or both parties is aged 60 or more. His court recognizes that older adults may have unique needs for legal assistance in disputes, including a potential need for free legal representation or guidance.
After the presentation of his paper via a translator, Judge Yihan Wang provided me with a copy of the English language translation of his paper. Thus, I was able to both hear and read about his examples of cases that have occurred in the Shanghai court:
"For one example, in the disputes of sale contracts of real estate, some adult children sell their parents' apartment and violate their parents' residency by stealing their parents' identification -- or make them sign the contract with the older person is unconscious. In [some] cases, the judge will judge the contract as valid to protect the third-parties' legal rights according to the Property Law. However, in cases involving the older [person], judges will consider more about the buyer's duty of care and the residency rights of the senior. They will be more cautious and much more strict to confirm the effectiveness of the contract. Mainly to protect the older people's residency right."
In contrast to my on-going discussion with the three Chinese law professors who emphasized the voluntary nature of assistance provided by families to their elders, Judge Yihan Wang's paper suggested that some level of litigation or claims review does occur over the issue of "family support," including what he described as efforts to "remind the adult children of their duty." His paper reported that "statistics show that 56% of the claiming alimony cases are closed by conciliation. In most of these cases, after the trials, children go to visit their parents automatically and the family relationship is improved." He emphasized that for older adults, "conciliation not only protects their legal rights and interests, but also maintains their family relationship and brings their children home."
Judge Yihan Wang's paper, in translation, concludes with these words: "China's 5,000-year-old culture emphasizes respect for the elderly, pension, help age virtues, which [are] absorbed by Chinese law and policy concerning the elderly, reflected in the Chinese judicial practice and become the judicial characteristics on protection of the rights and interests of the elderly in China."
Thus, I can see that my efforts to understand the role of "filial support" or "family support" laws in China will continue, especially as it appears that there may be regional differences in how any such laws are used or needed. In most countries I have studied, voluntary assistance, both practical and financial, flowing from adult children to elderly parents, is the norm. What I find interesting is the question of to what extent is "voluntary" filial assistance also encouraged, mandated, or subject to enforcement by laws. Is the 5,000 year tradition of filial piety under sufficient pressure in the 21st century that law is necessary?
Friday, June 20, 2014
I'm at the mid-point in a three-week period of fairly intense focus on elder protection issues.
Last week, I accepted the invitations of Dickinson Law alum Bob Gerhard and Judge Lois Murphy to join them at the Montgomery County Elder Justice Roundtable to discuss practical concerns about elder abuse at the local level. Bob and I conducted two sessions on Powers of Attorney.
This week, I've had the privilege of being part of working sessions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force. Judge Murphy, right, is also a part of this effort. A fascinating mix of trial and appellate level judges, district attorneys, legal aid specialists, solo practitioners, "big firm" lawyers, court administrators, state officials, protective service case workers, social workers (and a couple of us academic types) spent two intense days discussing a year's worth of research on how better to serve the interests and needs of adults who may be at risk of neglect or intentional harm, including financial abuse. Guided by the charge of Justice Debra Todd of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, we're looking to issuance of a comprehensive report and recommendation for actions, probably in the early fall 2014.
Next week, I land in Belfast, Northern Ireland for several days of working group meetings on law and aging topics. On Tuesday, June 24, I am part of a research team's Roundtable discussion on recommendations regarding "social care" for older persons. hosted by the independent Commissioner of Older Persons in Northern Ireland (COPNI). Our team leader for that project is Dr. Joseph Duffy of Queen's University Belfast. The following day, I will attend the COPNI's launch of "Protecting our Elder People in Northern Ireland: A Call for Safeguarding Legislation in Northern Ireland." Commissioner Claire Keatinge and her team have been tireless in pursuing a full agenda of safeguarding, care and dignity goals for seniors. Last winter I worked on research findings and recommendations with team leader Dr. Janet Anand, also of Queens University Beflast, that served as a base for the Safeguarding Law proposals. These two projects have involved amazingly talented scholars from diverse backgrounds, including social work and law in Scotland, England, Wales, Australia and, of course, both the north and south of Ireland. The truth is that I've been an avid "student" during my opportunities in Northern Ireland, often facing the reality that those on the other side of the Atlantic are ahead of the U.S. in thinking about key concepts, especially "social care" goals. I look forward to more work, writing several follow-up articles in collaboration with team members as a result of the rich research environment of the last year.
Following this schedule, I'm probably going to take a break from "daily" blogging for a few weeks. I fear my brain may explode if I don't give it a bit of a rest, and I hear the green hills and fields of Ireland calling to me.
June 20, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Law & Society Association's Annual Meeting is always a feast -- with hundreds of presentations and papers, often with cross-discipline themes and presenters. This year's four day program starts today in Minneapolis. On tap are three elder law-themed sessions hosted by Aging, Law & Society. The session on "Rethinking Elder Law's Rules & Norms" will be chaired by Nina Kohn, Syracuse University.
Scheduled paper presentations include:
- Adult Protective Services and Therapeutic Jurisprudence, by Michael Schindler, Bar-Ilan University;
- Age, Gender and Lifetime Discrmination against Working Women, by Susan Bisom-Rapp, Thomas Jefferson School of Law and Malcolm Sargeant, Middlesex University Business School;
- Effective Affective Forecasting in Older Adult Caregiving, by Eve Brank and Lindsey Wylie, University of Nebraska-Lincoln;
- Sexuality & Incapacity, by Alexander Boni-Saenz, Chicago-Kent College of Law;
- Beyond the Law: Legal Consciousness in Older Age Care Contexts, by Sue Westwood, Keele University
Nancy Knauer of Temple Law School is chairing the session on "Accessing and Experiencing Jusice in Older Age." Presentations include:
- From Vienna to Madrid and Beyond, by Israel Doron, University of Haifa;
- Lessons from Detroit: Retiree Benefits in the Real World, by Susan Cancelosi, Wayne State University Law School;
- Older Persons Use of the European Court of Human Rights, by Benny Spanier, Haifa University;
- Crossing Borders and Barriers: Assessing Older Adults' Access to Legal Advice in the Search for Effective Justice, by Katherine Pearson, Penn State University Dickinson School of Law, Joseph Duffy, Queens University Belfast, and Subhajit Basu, University of Leeds
A workshop on "Ethics of Care and Support in Law and Aging," to be chared by Sue Westwood, Keele University, includes:
- Aging with a Plan: What You Should Consider in Middle Age to Plan for Caregiving and Your Own Old Age, by Sharona Hoffman, Case Western Reserve University;
- An Ethic of Care Critique of the UK Care Bill/Act, by Sarah Webber, University of Bristol;
- Both Property and Pauper: Slaver, Old Age, and the Inverted Logic of Capitalist Exchange, by Alix Lerner, Princeton University;
- Responding to Financial Vulnerability: Advances in Gerotchnology as an Alternative to the Substitute Decision Making Model, by Margaret Hall, Thompson Rivers University and Margaret Easton, Simon Fraser University
An international cast of characters, yes? More soon, with details from the front.
Friday, May 23, 2014
John Marshall Law School and Roosevelt University, both in Chicago, and East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, are jointly sponsoring an International Elder Law and Policy Conference in Chicago on July 10-11.
Keynote speakers include Professor Israel Doron of the University of Haifa in Israel and Dr. Ellinoir Flynn and Professor Gerard Quinn, both from National Unviersity of Ireland, Galway School of Law.
Scheduled panel topics include:
- Dignity and Rights of the Elderly
- Elimination of Age Discrimination
- Caregivers and Surrogate Decision Makers
- Social Security, Pensions and Other Retirement Financing Approaches
- Prevention of Elder Abuse
- Access to Justice
Here's the link to the Registration website.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Maryland Elder Law and Disability Law specialist Ron Landsman provides a thoughtful analysis of use of trusts, especially "special needs trusts," to assist families in effective managment of assets. His most recent article, "When Worlds Collides: State Trust Law and Federal Welfare Programs," appears in the Spring 2014 issue of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) Journal. Minus the footnotes, his article begins:
"'Special needs trusts,' which enable people with assets to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, are the intersection of two different worlds: poverty programs and the tools of wealth management. Introducing trusts into the world of public benefits has resulted in deep confusion for public benefit administrators. . . . The confusion arising from the merger of trust law with public benefits is sharply drawn in the agencies' [Social Security Administration (SSA) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)] attempts to define what it means for a trust to be for the sole benefit of the public benefits recipient. Public benefits administrators have focused on the distributions a trustee makes rather than the fiduciary standards that guide the trustee. The agencies have imposed detailed distribution rules that range from the picayune to the counterproductive and without regard, and sometimes contrary, to the best interests of the disabled beneficiary."
Drawing upon his experience in drafting trusts for disabled persons, Ron takes on the challenge of explaining how and where he sees the agencies' focus on "distribution" as misguided. He contends, for example:
"The [better] task for CMS and SSA [would be] to use their authority to develop standards and guidelines that utilize, rather than thwart, competent, responsible, properly trained trustees as their partners in making special needs trusts an effective tool in serving the needs of people with disabilities. If this were done properly, capable trustees would be the allies of the federal and state agencies in the efficient use of limited private resources. Beneficiaries would live better, more rewarding lives to the extent that resources can make a difference, at a lower cost to Medicaid, with a greater possibility of more funds recovered through payback."
Ron is detailed in his critique of agency guidelines and manuals, and he provides clear examples of his "better" sole benefit analysis.
May 15, 2014 in Estates and Trusts, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
It occurs to me that what I'm about to write here is a mini-review of a mini-book. Slightly complicating this little task is the fact that I count both authors as friends and mentors.
The latest edition of Elder Law in a Nutshell by Professors Lawrence Frolik (University of Pittsburgh) and Richard Kaplan (University of Illinois) arrived on my desk earlier this month. (As Becky might remind us, both are definitely Elder Law's "rock stars.") And as with fine wine, this book, now its 6th edition, becomes more valuable with age. This is true even though achieving the right balance of simplicity and detail cannot be an easy task for authors in the intentionally brief "Nutshell" series. Presented in the book are introductions to the following core topics:
- Ethical Considerations in Dealing with Older Clients
- Health Care Decision Making
- Medicare and Medigap
- Long-Term Care Insurance
- Nursing Homes, Board and Care Homes, and Assisted Living Facilities
- Housing Alternatives & Options (including Reverse Mortgages)
- Alternatives to Guardianship (including Powers of Attorneys, Joint Accounts and Revocable Trusts)
- Social Security Benefits
- Supplemental Security Income
- Veterans' Benefits
- Pension Plans
- Age Discrimination in Employment
- Elder Abuse and Neglect
The authors describe their anticipated audience, including "lawyers and law students needing an overview of some particular subject, social workers, certain medical personnel, gerontologists, retirement planners and the like." Curiously, they don't mention potential clients, including family members of older persons. I suspect the book can and does assist prospective clients in thinking about when and why an "elder law specialist" would be an appropriate choice for consultation. This book is a very good starting place.
What's missing from the overview? Not a lot, although I find it interesting that despite solid coverage of the basics of Medicaid, and even though it is unrealistic to expect exhaustive coverage in a mini-book, the authors do not hint at the bread and butter of many elder law specialists, i.e., Medicaid Planning. Thus, there's little mention of some of the more cutting edge (and therefore potentially controversial) planning techniques used to create Medicaid eligibility for an individual's long-term care while also preserving assets that otherwise would have to be spent down.
Modern approaches, depending on the state, may range from the simple, such as permitted use of assets to purchase a better replacement auto, to more complex planning, as in states that permit purchase of spousal annuities or use of promissory notes, allow modest half-a-loaf gifting, or recognize spousal refusal. Even though the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 succeeded in restricting assets transfers to non-spouse family members, families, especially if there is a community spouse, may still have viable options. Without appropriate planning the community spouse, particularly a younger spouse, may be in a tough spot if forced to spend down to the "maximum" permitted to be retained, currently less than $120,000 (in, for example, Pennsylvania). See, for example, a thoughtful discussion of planning options, written by Elder Law practitioners Julian Gray and Frank Petrich.
Perhaps the Nutshell omission is a reflection of the unease some who teach Elder Law may feel about the public impact of private Medicaid planning?
May 14, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Books, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, May 9, 2014
Via the Korean Herald (op-ed piece):
After many twists and turns, the National Assembly has finally passed the controversial “basic pension” bill, enabling President Park Geun-hye to make good on one of her key election pledges.
The Assembly’s action on the bill was much belated but welcome. The legislation, which is expected to go into effect in July or August, will benefit the poorest 70 percent of Koreans aged 65 or older.
Specifically, about 4.5 million of the nation’s 6.4 million senior citizens will receive a monthly allowance of between 100,000 won and 200,000 won[about $100-200], depending on their income. Of the beneficiaries, about 90 percent will receive the maximum 200,000 won.
This scheme is not exactly the same as what Park promised on the campaign trail. During the election campaign, she promised to pay a uniform monthly allowance of 200,000 won to all citizens aged 65 or older, regardless of their income. But it was increasingly clear that Park’s universal pension plan was beyond the government’s financing capacity. So last September, the government decided to scale it back.
The basic pension scheme, even in its original form, is hardly sufficient to eliminate widespread poverty among senior citizens. Korea’s relative poverty rate among elderly people stands at 49.3 percent, the highest among OECD nations.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Via Investment News:
Average health care costs for middle-income retirees are on a path to exceed their Social Security benefits, according to a newly created Retirement Health Care Cost Index. The index devised by HealthView Services, a provider of Medicare, Social Security and long-term-care planning tools, measures the percentage of Social Security benefits required to pay for health care-related costs in retirement for a healthy couple receiving the average expected Social Security benefit at full retirement age. Retirement health care costs will increase from 69% of Social Security benefits for a couple retiring next year to 98% of Social Security benefits for a healthy couple retiring 10 years from now, according to the index. For couples retiring two decades from now, the gap will be even more dramatic. They would need 127% of average Social Security benefits to cover their health care costs in retirement. Total retirement health care costs measured by the index include all Medicare premiums, including Parts B and D, and Medigap premiums, as well as out-of-pocket costs, including co-pays not covered by Medicare. The index assumes that the primary income earner will generate the Social Security average of $1,294 per month in today's dollars and $817 per month for the lower-earning spouse. The index measures the lifetime average of health care costs, which tend to increase as retirees age.
Source/more: Investment News Retirement
Friday, April 18, 2014
Three legal advocacy organizations, Disability Rights Oregon, the Oregon Law Center and the National Senior Citizens Law Center, worked as a team to initiate a class action suit in Oregon on behalf of 700 individuals with disabilities to protect their rights to continue to receive Social Security benefits needed for basic living requirements. The individuals' access to monthly Social Security benefits was jeopardized when a non-profit organization, "Safety Net of Oregon," serving as their representative payee was disqualified following an investigation for alleged mismanagement of clients' funds. The advocates explained:
"This suit is asking that SSA follow its own regulations to make sure that benefits continue to flow to recipients in a safe and responsible manner. In early March, SSA sent a notice to approximately 1,000 SSA recipients who have Safety Net as a representative payee, advising them that their benefits would be suspended beginning April 1, 2014, and that the amount they would receive would be $0.00. While some recipients have been able to find a new payee, or to become their own payee, many clients never received the notice and have no idea that their benefits are about to be suspended. Almost 700 individuals still lack new payees as of March 21, 2014. Many are homeless, have severe and persistent mental illness, developmental disabilities, and/or alcohol or drug addictions. Many of the clients are profoundly social isolated and alienated, and totally unable to navigate the system on their own."
In response to the suit, the federal court issued a restraining order on March 26 requiring SSA to assign new payees to former Safety Net Clients, rather than delay, require new applications or other in-person requests by the disabled SSI and SSD recipients. More background here.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
The Social Security Administration announced on Monday that it is halting its practice of "Treasury Offsets" to recover debts reported to be 10 years or older. This decision comes just three days after the Washington Post's front page account of intercepts that targeted IRS income tax refunds going to children of alleged debtors. As reported in today's Washington Post:
“"I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law,' the acting Social Security commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, said in a statement.
Colvin said anyone who has received Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits and 'believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment' should contact the agency and 'seek options to resolve the overpayment.'”
The Washington Post reported that after its first article, "many hundreds of taxpayers whose refunds had been intercepted came forward and complained to members of Congress that they had been given no notice of the debts and that the government had not explained why they were being held responsible for debts that their deceased parents may have incurred."
Hmm. It seems that it is the intercept notice procedures that may be the focus of reexamination by the SSA, rather than giving up on the authority granted by Congress in 2008 to recover "stale" debts. Plus, it is unclear whether SSA will explain its theory for seeking recoveries against children of debtors.
Friday, April 11, 2014
George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn drew a direct line between our post earlier today about law review articles exploring various theories about "filial" or family obligations for support, and a chilling report from the front page of today's Washington Post. From the article by Marc Fisher, titled "Social Security, Treasury Target Taxpayers for Their Parents' Decades Old Debts:"
"Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. Why the feds chose to take Mary’s money, rather than her surviving siblings’, is a mystery.
Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are expecting refunds this month are instead getting letters like the one Grice got, informing them that because of a debt they never knew about — often a debt incurred by their parents — the government has confiscated their check.
The Treasury Department has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year — $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years, said Jeffrey Schramek, assistant commissioner of the department’s debt management service. The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam."
Well, that certainly trumps any nursing home's theory of family liability. Our thanks to Naomi for the timely heads up. The due process implications of the tax refund intercepts sound like a Constitutional Law exam problem in the making ... or perhaps I'm just too close to exam-writing time myself.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
University of Oklahoma Professor of Law Jonathan Barry Foreman writes on "Supporting the Oldest Old: The Role of Social Insurance, Pensions, and Financial Products," for the Elder Law Journal in 2014.
He points to "longevity risk," defined as the risk of outliving one's retirement savings, as "probably the greatest risk facing current and future retirees" in the U.S. As several recent studies demonstrate, such as those cited on the Elder Law Prof Blog here, here and here, many people are not adequately prepared in terms of finances for retirement.
In responding to this risk, Professor Foreman writes thoughtfully, proposing systemic alternatives, including expansion of Social Security and SSI for "the oldest old." Professor Foreman suggests 90 years of age as the starting point for that category. In addition he proposes greater incentives for public and private employers to promote annuities and other "lifetime income products" as components of employment-based retirement packages.
He concludes with a warning based on our national history of frequently failing to make significant changes in advance of a predictable crisis:
"Social insurance programs like Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicaid will certainly need to be expanded. Workers will also need to be encouraged to work longer and save more for their eventual retirements, and both workers and retirees should be encouraged to annuitize more of their retirement savings.
While these kinds of solutions seem fairly predictable, the answers to two important policy questions have yet to be decided. First, how much will the government require the oldest old to save earlier in their lives? And second, how much will the government redistribute to benefit the oldest old? Unfortunately, if the history of the Social Security system is any indication, both government mandates and redistribution will be modest, and a significant portion of the oldest old will face their final years with inadequate economic resources."
Reading Professor Foreman's tightly focused paper suggests to me that there is, perhaps, a certain irony to all of this. The irony is that by not embracing systemic change, Americans are engaging in a form of financial roulette, betting we won't live long enough to care about the outcome of our gamble.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Professor Donna Harkness: "What Are Families For? Re-evaluating Return to Filial Responsibility Laws"
Donna Harkness, clinical professor of law and director of the Elder Law Clinic at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphries School of Law, has a new article on filial support laws in the most recent issue of the University of Illinois's Elder Law Journal. In "What Are Families For? Re-valuating Return to Filial Responsibilities Laws," she concludes:
"Despite their long history, filial responsibility laws have clearly failed to remedy existing needs. The lack of uniformity in filial responsibility laws, the difficulty and cost of enforcement, along with the fact that such laws provide no coverage to those elder Americans that have no adult children to look to for support, render them a limited response at best. In addition, to the extent that filial responsibility laws are enforced, evidence indicates they would be destructive to family ties and have the counterproductive effect of further eroding and destabilizing the network of support available to elders.
Furthermore, by focusing solely on economic support, filial responsibility laws do not address the fundamental need that all persons, and most especially the vulnerable elderly, have to be supported by caring relationships. To the extent that the institution of the family, however defined, is the key to ensuring that such relationships exist, it behooves us as a society to strengthen and foster family ties through policy initiatives that reward caring relationships."
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Via Disability Scoop:
Under a new bill proposed in the U.S. Senate, the amount of money that Supplemental Security Income recipients could save without losing access to their benefits would rise for the first time in over two decades. Currently, individuals who receive SSI can have no more than $2,000 in cash or liquid assets at any given time without forfeiting their eligibility for benefits. The legislation, introduced late last week, calls for that asset limit to increase to $10,000. The bill would also eliminate restrictions that currently disallow friends and family from providing financial, food and housing support to those receiving SSI and the measure would boost the amount of income beneficiaries could earn without losing out on benefits.
“SSI is a critical program that helps millions of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens keep their heads above water,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who proposed the bill along with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. Warren said the legislation would “help strengthen SSI for families who rely on these essential benefits.” More than 8 million Americans — including many with disabilities — draw on SSI. Currently, the maximum federal benefit for an individual receiving SSI is $721 per month, though many states tack on additional funding for their residents meaning that actual payments can be somewhat higher. The last time the asset cap for SSI recipients was increased was in 1989, the senators said.
Read the legislation: Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2014
Thursday, March 6, 2014
New GAO Report on "Retirement Security: Trends in Marriage, Work, and Pensions May Increase Vulnerability for Some Retirees"
The decline in marriage, rise in women's labor force participation, and transition away from defined benefit (DB) plans to defined contribution (DC) plans have resulted in changes in the types of retirement benefits households receive and increased vulnerabilities for some. Since the 1960s, the percentage of unmarried and single-parent families has risen dramatically, especially among low-income, less-educated individuals, and some minorities. At the same time, the percentage of married women entering the labor force has increased. The decline in marriage and rise in women's labor force participation have affected the types of Social Security benefits households receive, with fewer women receiving spousal benefits today than in the past. In addition, the shift away from DB to DC plans has increased financial vulnerabilities for some due to the fact that DC plans typically offer fewer spousal protections. DC plans also place greater responsibility on households to make decisions and manage their pension and financial assets so they have income throughout retirement. As shown in the figure below, despite Social Security's role in reducing poverty among seniors, poverty remains high among certain groups of seniors, such as minorities and unmarried women. These vulnerable populations are more likely to be adversely affected by these trends and may need assistance in old age.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Michael Astrue, who served as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration for six years, has written a blog post for the Special Needs Alliance on working with SSA. It's a must read for anyone who has dealings with the agency.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Penn State Dickinson School of Law has frequently hosted visiting academics from Ukraine. I've had the privilege of working with very talented, engaged scholars on choice of law issues, conflicts of law, family law, and filial support questions. I've been thinking a lot about my friends as I follow the news about violence and change in Kiev during the struggles over the future for the country. We did not always agree on the law, but our debates were always spirited. I hope they are safe. Knowing how committed the lawyers I've met have been to modernization and the rule of law, I can only imagine how painful this period must be.
In 2012, I was invited to publish an article, "Filial Support Laws in the United State and Ukraine," for a Ukrainian journal on family law. I later expanded my analysis for the University of Illinois' Elder Law Journal, as an opportunity to compare domestic and international trends in use of such laws to compel adult children to pay for costs to care for aging parents. In this effort, I was guided by several people, including my Penn State colleague and noted Russian law scholar, Professor William Butler, in going beyond literal translations of Ukraine statutes and to examine case reports that shed light on the potential strengths or weaknesses of different systems of enforcement. As I wrote in my second article, the Ukraine cases "demonstrate the impact of poverty -- and the importance of even a few 'dollars' extra per month - for the elder parent" for any country struggling to create a viable economic system, including former Soviet block countries.
My thoughts go out to the families, including their elders, who face uncertainty during these challenging times and who deserve a brighter future.